July 14, 2010

How to Can (Dilly Beans)

It's time to share how to can here on the Blueberry Files! I've written about recipes you can can (Strawberry Rhubarb Jam and Lavender Honey Strawberry Jam), but I've left the canning part up to you. And since canning is so popular right now- and there are lots of great how-tos on the internet!- I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring. So if you are the type of person who can learn from a book (or a blog!), then have at it. If not and you live in Maine, then come to one of my hands-on canning workshops.

The process I'm showing you here, boiling water bath canning, can be applied to all high-acid foods: fruits and pickled vegetables. So you can can jams, jellies, salsa, relish, pickled fruits and vegetables, whole fruits, and tomato sauces this way. Anything else (non-pickled vegetables, meat, and dairy) requires the use of a pressure canner, which cannot be made with common household items; you must go buy one. Please do not attempt to can low-acid foods in a boiling water bath, as you run the very real risk of botulism poisoning. No fun!

To start, here is the equipment you will need to can pickles, jams and jellies, salsa, relish, chutneys, and tomato sauces.

You'll need: a large pot with a circular rack in the bottom (you can buy a canner or use a large pot you already have. It just needs to have a rack in the bottom (like a round cooling rack or a steamer rack) and be deep enough to hold your jars with 1-2 inches of water over the tops), a case of canning jars with two-part lids, liquid and dry measuring cups, a ladle, a digital timer, and a set of canning tools (magnetic wand lid lifter, headspace measurer/bubble freer, wide mouth funnel, and jar lifter), clean dish towels, paper towels, a cooling rack, and a large and small pot.

You can purchase the canning utensil toolkit from Ball's website or sometimes stores where canning goods are sold.

I made dilly beans (pickled green beans), so here are the ingredients I used for my recipe. I had fresh green beans, picked yesterday from my garden, garlic, fresh dill heads, crushed red pepper, vinegar, water, and pickling and canning salt.

About the produce: use freshly harvested produce, at its peak of ripeness. We're not trying to revive anything here, we're trying to preserve the freshness of the food. Do not use anything with pest damage, mold, or overripe spots. Just cut them off! All of these things mean increased microorganisms, and we're trying to DECREASE the number of germies on our food, since germs = spoiled food.

Once you have all of your equipment and produce gathered, begin by washing your hands and then your jars in hot, soapy water. Fill your canner about 3/4 of the way full with water and place on the stove over high heat. At this point, you can add your empty jars to the canner as you bring the water to a boil. You are going to need to sterilize your jars by boiling them for 10 minutes. By adding them as the water comes to a boil, you don't have to add room temperature jars to boiling hot water, as the temperature change could cause them to break.

Place the lids of your jars in a small sauce pot and cover them with water. Place them on a back burner over medium heat. This is to warm up the ring of orange sealing compound found on the underside of the lids. By warming (not boiling!) the compound, you soften it and allow a seal to form between the lid and the top of the jar.

Begin preparing your recipe as the water in the canner comes to a boil. (Remember to start your timer for 10 minutes once it comes to a rolling, vigorous boil!) For dilly beans, the recipes specifies that 1/2" of headspace must be between the top of the food and the bottom of the lid. So the beans need to be cut so they are 1/2" in from the top of the jar. Make a bean template by putting a bean in the jar and measuring the proper headspace. Once you cut that bean to the proper size, leave it on the cutting board and cut your other beans to the same size. This is where a headspace measuring tool comes in handy, but you can use a ruler too.

Those little notches are in 1/4" increments- so the first step is 1/4", the second is 1/2".

After all your beans are washed and chopped, portion out your garlic and dill. You can use 1 fresh dill head per jar or 1 teaspoon of dried dill seeds.

Prepare your brine in a large pot, and bring to a boil to dissolve salt. Reduce heat once you reach a boil. Brine is a combination of vinegar, water, salt, spices, and sometimes sugar. The particular recipe depends on what kind of pickles you are making- sour pickles, bread and butter, kosher dill, etc. Follow a tested recipe from the USDA, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, or Ball. Please don't make your own recipe, as these recipes have been tested to ensure that a proper pH is achieved (i.e. very acidic!) and that no botulism spores can survive. Just keep trying until you find one to your liking.

After your jars have been boiled for 10 minutes, remove the jars from the canner with your jar lifter. Place them on a cooling rack or a folded dish towel, as coming in contact with the cold kitchen counter could cause them to break. You can turn the heat down on your canner a bit while you prepare your recipe (to medium-high or 8, if electric).

Add one clove of garlic and one head of dill (or one tablespoon dill seed) to each jar and pack tightly with trimmed beans. I mean tightly! Cram beans in there until you can't cram them anymore. The beans will shrink when they cook. Using your ladle and jar funnel, add hot brine to the jars, again leaving 1/2" headspace.

Wipe the rims of the jars well with a paper towel. By having a clean rim before you apply your lids, you ensure that a good vacuum seal will form. And that is the point of home canning! The vacuum seal is like the Holy Grail, only much more achievable.

Use your magnetic lid lifter (or a fork) to remove one lid from the warm water and apply to a jar. Screw on the screwband until fingertip tight. Do not over tighten, as air needs to escape the jar while it is being boiled. Forcing all the air out of the jar during processing, and then the subsequent cooling, is what creates the vacuum seal (no air in the jar). So just apply the bands until they are tight. Don't go crazy!

Repeat this process until all your jars are filled, and lift each jar into the canner. Try to leave space between the jars, so they are not leaning on each other or the sides of the canner. But don't give yourself an ulcer.

After all your jars are in, check to make sure that you have 1-2" of water over the tops of the jars. You may want to have a kettle of boiling water on the stove to add water easily until you get the hang of how much water you need to have in your canner. Apply the lid to the canner, turn the heat to high again and wait until a rolling, vigorous boil occurs. No sissy blurps here- we want boiling! Start your timer for the processing time specified in your recipe (5 minutes for dilly beans).

After the processing time is up, turn off the heat, remove the lid and wait a few minutes. The jars will be very hot, so waiting will reduce the chances of you burning yourself and the jars breaking due to the temperature change.

Remove your jars and place them on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel. Let them cool, undisturbed for 24 hours. After 24 hours has passed, check to make sure the jars sealed. Run your finger along the tops of the lids. If they are sucked in, they have sealed. If they are still popped up and you can click the lid, they are not. You can either reprocess by adding a new lid and processing them again or store them in the fridge and eat within two weeks. But if you followed the instructions here, all of your jars should have sealed.

Wipe sealed jars down with a damp cloth, remove the screw bands and label the lids with a permanent marker. Write the name of the product and the date canned; use home canned goods within one year. Once opened, store in the refrigerator and eat within two weeks. Store your jars in a cool, dry place, away from direct light and heat.

Most of all, enjoy! Now, questions? Please comment below, and I'll be happy to answer as best I can or point you to a resource.

Oh, and here's the complete recipe for dilly beans (from the Nat'l Center for Home Food Preservation).